Start Up: hacking self-driving cars, Trump hides visitor details, Shadowbrokers dissemble, and more

US retailers are going bust at a stunning rate – so where’s the help for those put out of a job? Photo by Nicholas Eckhart on Flickr.

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A selection of 12 links for you. None subject to referendum, since they always seem to give the wrong answer. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Retailers are going bankrupt at a staggering rate • Business Insider

Hayley Peterson:


It’s only April, and nine retailers have already filed for bankruptcy since the start of the year — as many as all of last year.

“2017 will be the year of retail bankruptcies,” Corali Lopez-Castro, a bankruptcy lawyer, told Business Insider after she attended a recent distressed-investing conference in Palm Beach, Florida. “Retailers are running out of cash, and the dominoes are starting to fall.”

Payless ShoeSource, hhgregg, The Limited, RadioShack, BCBG, Wet Seal, Gormans, Eastern Outfitters, and Gander Mountain are among the retailers that have filed for bankruptcy so far this year, and most are closing hundreds of stores as a result. On top of those closures, retailers that are staying in business — at least for now — are shutting down a record number of stores. 

More than 3,500 stores are expected to close over the next several months.


This is big for jobs:


General merchandise stores shed 34,700 jobs in March, the government announced Friday, the single most disappointing figure in a generally disappointing jobs report.

After hitting a low point during the recession in December 2009, the retail sector has reliably been churning out more jobs. Though the Labor Department’s monthly employment summary provides only a snapshot of the labor market, this is the second month in a row that retail payrolls have registered substantial losses — a possible sign that larger structural changes are in the works.


And also: the decline in jobs since 2001 (its peak) is more than 10 times the total number employed in coal mining in the US.

And finally: US official statistics show that coal mining is 95% a white occupation, while retail is predominantly women (47.8%), 12% black.

Yet which one gets the presidential gladhanding even at the cost of the environment and the reality of where the jobs are?
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First resort • Remains Of The Day

Eugene Wei used to work at Amazon, where they obsessed about how to become the “site of first resort” for shopping:


A few years back I was in a wedding party, and I had to purchase a specific shirt to match the other groomsmen. I could only find it at Barney’s, and the local outlet didn’t offer it in my size so I ordered it from their website. The package was stolen from our apartment lobby, so I wrote Barney’s customer service asking for a replacement shipment. They refused and asked me to take it up with UPS or FedEx, or whoever the shipper was. If it were Amazon, they’d have a replacement package out to me overnight on the spot, no questions asked. Needless to say, I’ll never order from Barneys again, but it’s amazing to think that Amazon’s customer service is superior to that of even luxury retailers.

In hindsight, thinking Google might surpass us in shopping seems farfetched, but there was a time eBay had surpassed Amazon in market cap and was growing their sales and inventory in a way that inspired envy in Seattle. It turns out there was more of a ceiling on the potential of auctions as a shopping format than fixed price shopping, but in the moment, it was hard to see that shoulder on the S-curve would be.


His jumping-off point being the graph from a few days ago showing how peoples’ search for items to buy often starts now at Amazon, at least in the US.
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Alphabet’s Verily shows off health-focused smartwatch • Ars Technica

Ron Amadeo:


Alphabet’s Life Sciences division, called Verily, is giving the world a peek at its health-focused smartwatch. The Google sister company introduced the “Verily Study Watch” on its blog today, calling it an “investigational device” that aims to “passively capture health data” for medical studies.

Many wearables technically capture health data with simple heart-rate sensors, but Verily’s watch aims to be a real medical device. The blog post says the device can track “relevant signals for studies spanning cardiovascular, movement disorders, and other areas.” The Study Watch does this by using electrocardiography (ECG) and by measuring electrodermal activity and inertial movements.


On Friday I observed that Verily was about due to do a PR push. And here it is, right on time. Not for sale, of course.
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Google will oppose a shareholder push to publish its gender pay data • Buzzfeed

Hamza Shaban:


For the second year in a row, Google’s parent company Alphabet will oppose a shareholder plan that would commit the business to evaluate and disclose whether it has a pay gap between female and male employees.

Arjuna Capital, the investment firm advancing the proposal on behalf of stockholders, told BuzzFeed News that Alphabet sent them a statement of opposition ahead of the company’s annual shareholders meeting this summer. Google declined to comment on the plan.

Last week, as part of an ongoing investigation against Google, an official with the Department of Labor said the agency “found systemic compensation disparities pretty much across the entire workforce.”

Natasha Lamb, Arjuna’s director of shareholder engagement, said there is a difference between paying lip service to gender pay equity and actually being transparent about it.

“They have been unwilling to do that,” Lamb said. “That’s unsettling given how proactive their tech peers have been, and also given what we just saw with the Department of Labor accusing them of extreme gender pay disparity. It makes one question what’s really going on here, when there isn’t full transparency and accountability.”


The pressure is going to continue. How does Google get out of this?
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1Q17 global smartphone production volume fell 23% from prior quarter due to seasonality • Trendforce


Global smartphone production volume for the first quarter of 2017 totaled 307 million units, a drop of 23% from the previous quarter, according to market intelligence firm TrendForce. Smartphone brands, especially those based in China, lowered their production volume forecasts through the first quarter as demand slowed down significantly due to the conventional seasonal effect.

Major brands such as Samsung, LG and Huawei have begun to ship their flagship devices for the year, but the market demand going into the second quarter is expected to remain relatively weak as consumers are holding off their purchases in anticipation of the 10th anniversary iPhone devices that will arrive in the third quarter. Smartphone sales will be fairly lackluster until the second half of this year. TrendForce estimates that the global smartphone production volume for this second quarter will register a modest single-digit growth versus the preceding three-month period.

Strong sales of the Galaxy J series made Samsung the only brand posting production volume growth for the first quarter.

Samsung’s sales results for its high-end smartphones fell short of expectations in the first quarter as consumers’ confidence in the brand had yet to fully recover from the recall of Galaxy Note 7. Nevertheless, Samsung continued to do very well in the mid-range and low-end segments of the market.


Xiaomi doing slightly better; Lenovo doing a lot worse (as in 20% down year-on-year). Amazing that the upcoming iPhone is affecting sales already.
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Charlie Miller on why self-driving cars are so hard to secure from hackers • WIRED

Andy Greenberg:


Two years ago, Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek pulled off a demonstration that shook the auto industry, remotely hacking a Jeep Cherokee via its internet connection to paralyze it on a highway. Since then, the two security researchers have been quietly working for Uber, helping the startup secure its experimental self-driving cars against exactly the sort of attack they proved was possible on a traditional one. Now, Miller has moved on, and he’s ready to broadcast a message to the automotive industry: Securing autonomous cars from hackers is a very difficult problem. It’s time to get serious about solving it.

Last month, Miller left Uber for a position at Chinese competitor Didi, a startup that’s just now beginning its own autonomous ridesharing project. In his first post-Uber interview, Miller talked to WIRED about what he learned in those 19 months at the company—namely that driverless taxis pose a security challenge that goes well beyond even those faced by the rest of the connected car industry.


Consider how lousy the security on most IoT stuff is. Self-driving cars will be different, but you know they’ll have sockets for maintenance..
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Facebook faces increased publisher resistance to Instant Articles • Digiday

Lucia Moss:


Facebook’s Instant Article push is in danger of fizzling.

Many publishers are deeply unhappy  with the monetization on these pages, with major partners like The New York Times throwing in the towel and many others cutting back the amount of content pushed to the IA platform. In response, Facebook is making concessions to publishers, including new subscription options, in a rare show of weakness for the platform juggernaut.

The Times is among an elite group of publishers that’s regularly tapped by Facebook to launch new products, and as such, it was one of the first batch of publishers to pilot Instant. But it stopped using Instant Articles after a test last fall that found that links back to the Times’ own site monetized better than Instant Articles, said Kinsey Wilson, evp of product and technology at the Times. People were also more likely to subscribe to the Times if they came directly to the site rather than through Facebook, he said. Thus, for the Times, IA simply isn’t worth it. Even a Facebook-dependent publisher like LittleThings, which depends on Facebook for 80% of its visitors, is only pushing 20% of its content to IA.

Enthusiasm has cooled elsewhere. It’s an about-face from two years ago, when publishers were champing at the bit to join the party. “It’s just a matter of time,” Hearst Digital president Troy Young said at the time.


Poor monetisation. Facebook is not the publisher’s friend, and now they’re realising it we are going to shift into a new era in their relationship.
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LeEco kills EcoPass video streaming and services subscription plan • Variety

Janko Roettgers:


Embattled Chinese consumer electronics upstart LeEco has killed its plans for EcoPass, an ambitious content and services subscription bundle aimed at U.S. consumers. News of the end of EcoPass comes just days after LeEco announced that it is pulling out of the planned $2bn acquisition of US TV manufacturer Vizio.

EcoPass combined premium video streaming content with extended warranties, cloud storage, priority customer service and more. LeEco was offering consumers who bought phones and TVs between 3 and 12 months of complementary EcoPass membership, and was supposed to officially introduce the plan and reveal monthly pricing this spring.

But on Friday, a LeEco spokesperson confirmed that EcoPass was officially dead, sending Variety the following statement:

“We have discontinued the EcoPass Beta program as of April 1. We will be replacing EcoPass with 3-months of DirecTV NOW with every purchase of a LeEco ecophone or ecotv. We believe this provides greater value to our customers since it has over 60 channels that include the latest movies and shows.”


LeEco now looks in serious trouble. Withdrawal from the US looks a virtual certainty.
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A milestone moment for tidal energy • Innovators magazine


The eyes of the renewable energy world are firmly fixed on Scotland this week after it was announced the most powerful tidal turbine on the planet hit peak power.

And it was all an inside job. Developed and manufactured by one of the country’s leading engineering companies, Scotrenewables, the SR2000 device demonstrated its capabilities at the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) in Orkney.

The 500 tonne floating tidal turbine exported its full 2MW of power into the local grid on 12 April. A milestone moment for tidal energy, it also further strengthens Scotland’s reputation as a global leader in renewable energy.


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White House visitor logs won’t be released •

Zeke Miller:


The Trump Administration will not disclose logs of those who visit the White House complex, breaking with his predecessor, the White House announced Friday.

The decision, after nearly three months of speculation about the fate of the records, marks a dramatic shift from the Obama Administration’s voluntary disclosure of more than 6 million records during his presidency. The U.S. Secret Service maintains the logs, formally known as the Workers and Visitors Entry System, for the purpose of determining who can access to the 18-acre complex.

White House communications director Michael Dubke said the decision to reverse the Obama-era policy was due to “the grave national security risks and privacy concerns of the hundreds of thousands of visitors annually.” Instead, the Trump Administration is relying on a federal court ruling that most of the logs are “presidential records” and are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

Three White House officials said they expect criticism of the new policy, but believe it is necessary to preserve the ability of the president to seek advice from whomever he wants, “with some discretion.” They requested anonymity to discuss the policy before a formal announcement.


This is crap; it shows the Trump administration to be venal and hypocritical. All the attempts to justify this can’t hide the fact that this is an attempt to hide what is going on. “Drain the swamp” my arse.
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April 2016: How the maker of TurboTax fought free, simple tax filing • ProPublica

by Liz Day, in April 2016:


In 2013, we detailed how Intuit has lobbied against allowing the government to estimate your taxes for you. So this week, we called Intuit and asked if they still oppose free, government-prepared returns. The answer: Yes. “Our legislative, our policy position on that hasn’t changed,” said spokeswoman Julie Miller. She called Intuit “a staunch opponent to government prepared tax returns.” Meanwhile, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren proposed a bill yesterday to allow free government-prepped returns. Her office also released a report on the tax industry’s opposition to simpler filing solutions. It cited the article below as well as another story we did on how a rabbi, civil rights activist, and others were misled into supporting Intuit’s campaign.

…Intuit has spent about $11.5 million on federal lobbying in the past five years — more than Apple or Amazon. Although the lobbying spans a range of issues, Intuit’s disclosures pointedly note that the company “opposes IRS government tax preparation.”

The disclosures show that Intuit as recently as 2011 lobbied on two bills, both of which died, that would have allowed many taxpayers to file pre-filled returns for free. The company also lobbied on bills in 2007 and 2011 that would have barred the Treasury Department, which includes the IRS, from initiating return-free filing.


This is quite a tale of lobbying power within the US government. Now do you see the value in being able to see who has lobbied politicians?
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Protecting customers and evaluating risk • Microsoft blog



Most of the exploits that were disclosed [by ShadowBrokers] fall into vulnerabilities that are already patched in our supported products. Below is a list of exploits that are confirmed as already addressed by an update. We encourage customers to ensure their computers are up-to-date.

Code NameSolution
“EternalBlue”Addressed by MS17-010
“EmeraldThread”Addressed by MS10-061
“EternalChampion”Addressed by CVE-2017-0146 & CVE-2017-0147
“ErraticGopher”Addressed prior to the release of Windows Vista
“EsikmoRoll”Addressed by MS14-068
“EternalRomance”Addressed by MS17-010
“EducatedScholar”Addressed by MS09-050
“EternalSynergy”Addressed by MS17-010
“EclipsedWing”Addressed by MS08-067

Of the three remaining exploits, “EnglishmanDentist”, “EsteemAudit”, and “ExplodingCan”, none reproduces on supported platforms, which means that customers running Windows 7 and more recent versions of Windows or Exchange 2010 and newer versions of Exchange are not at risk. Customers still running prior versions of these products are encouraged to upgrade to a supported offering.


There was a huge kerfuffle on Friday when these were leaked; but it turns out that Microsoft had already patched against these hacks. However, there’s no protection for Windows XP, and older versions of Windows Server might be vulnerable. For the most part: run Windows 10 and don’t worry.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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